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The Andrew Preview: NFL Conference Championship Playoffs

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The Jets take on the Steelers this week, with a trip to the Superbowl on the line.

1. Raiders Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson was promoted to head coach this week, filling the final head coaching vacancy in the NFL. Owner Al Davis introduced Jackson as his new coach on Tuesday, promising it was the start of a brighter future for the team. Davis made a statement that, “The fire in Hue will set a flame that will burn for a long time in the hearts and minds of the Raider football team and the Raider Nation.” Jackson was hired last year to take over the play calling duties from the Raiders’ former head coach, Tom Cable. Under Jackson, the offense doubled its scoring output from the prior season. Jackson was widely thought to be the leading candidate for the position, and this will be his first head coaching job at any level.

2. After a long flirtation that many thought was a fait accompli, the Dallas Cowboys officially announced today that Rob Ryan will become their new Defensive Coordinator. The son of NFL legend Buddy Ryan and twin brother of current Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan, Rob will coming to Dallas to coach the Cowboys’ defense next year. Ryan has been the DC in Cleveland for two years under Eric Mangini, but became free with the hiring of new head coach Pat Shurmur. He has been an NFL coach for thirteen seasons, including a five year stop in Oakland as the Raider’s defensive coordinator. In brother-related news, in addition to a Harbaugh bowl between the Ravens and 49ers, next season will also feature a Ryan bowl when the Jets take on the Cowboys.

3. It’s very rare that the top news organizations report take the time to report the absence of something, but when it comes to the 2011 New York Jets, you just have to throw the playbook out the window. Major news outlets are reporting that the Jets and fiery head coach Rex Ryan…are not talking trash about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Outspoken defensive back Antonio Cromartie, who had some choice words about the New England Patriots said, “We’ve moved on. We’re getting ready for Pittsburgh now.” Adding to the comparative love fest, Ryan said that he and Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin were a lot alike, noting that both men were defensive coaches who received unique opportunities. Ryan added that Tomlin is one of his favorite coaches in the NFL. Will the Steelers reciprocate these veritable love letters from the Jets? Only time will tell.

Registering For The Draft

Here is the current order for the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

1. Carolina (2-14)
2. Denver (4-12)
3. Buffalo (4-12)
4. Cincinnati (4-12)
5. Arizona (5-11)
6. Cleveland (5-11)
7. San Francisco (6-10)
8. Tennessee (6-10)
9. Dallas (6-10)
10. Washington (6-10)
11. Houston (6-10)
12. Minnesota (6-10)
13. Detroit (6-10)
14. St. Louis (7-9)
15. Miami (7-9)
16. Jacksonville (8-8)
17. New England (14-2) — from Oakland
18. San Diego (9-7)
19. New York Giants (10-6)
20. Tampa Bay (10-6)
21. Kansas City (10-6)
22. Indianapolis (10-6)
23. Philadelphia (10-6)
24. New Orleans (11-5)
25. Seattle (7-9)
26. Baltimore (12-4)
27. Atlanta (13-3)
28. New England (14-2)
29. Green Bay (10-6)*
30. Chicago (11-5)*
31. New York Jets (11-5)*
32. Pittsburgh (12-4)*

* Final draft position depends on the outcome of the playoffs.

Two Big Match Ups

1. Green Bay at Chicago, 3 P.M. EST on FOX – The NFC Championship game will be all-North this year as the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears match up for the third time this season. The Green Bay Packers have essentially been competing in playoff games since Week Sixteen of the regular season. Fortunately, the team has been playing at a playoff level since that time as well. When they faced elimination from playoff contention, they delivered a beatdown of the New York Giants to the tune of 45-17. When they needed a victory to guarantee a playoff berth in Week Seventeen, they pulled out the hard-fought win. When they had to beat Michael Vick and the Eagles to advance to the next round of the postseason, they played a great game and got the W. And when they had to face their third division champion in as many weeks, the Packers responded by decimating the Falcons in front of the Atlanta faithful with a final score of 48-21. With the team firing on all cylinders for weeks now, the Packers are a tough out.

Still, Green Bay wasn’t the only team to win in a dominating fashion last week. While the Seahawks managed something of a comeback in garbage time, the Bears had a 28-3 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, and Seattle never really stood a chance as Chicago took absolute control of the game from the getgo. Having not played a truly meaningful football game in two weeks, the Bears shook of the rust and put in a stellar performance in their first playoff game in four years. Jay Cutler managed to score four touchdowns – two through the air and two on the grounds. With home field advantage on their side, the Bears are looking to stamp their ticket to Arlington in front of their home crowd. These teams have played twice this year. Chicago squeaked out a three-point victory in Week Three, and Green Bay picked up the duke by a touchdown in Week Seventeen. Still the Bears had nothing to play for in that game, though now they might wish that they’d taken that chance to knock out their upcoming sparring partner. With an NFC North rivalry and a pair of teams who’ve played each other close this season, expect a great game.

2. NY Jets at Pittsburgh, 6:30 P.M. EST on CBS – It didn’t look good for the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Down 21-7 to Baltimore at the half, the Steelers walked into the locker room with what appeared to be thin hopes for beating the division rival Ravens. Baltimore had taken advantage of Pittsburgh’s miscues and pumped up their running game to build a two-touchdown lead going into halftime. Then, all of a sudden, Pittsburgh came back out in the second half and rallied in a big way. They scored three touchdowns and a field goal, holding Baltimore to just 28 yards of total offense in the second half, and slaying their divisional foes. Now, Big Ben will look to secure his third trip to the Superbowl in just six seasons. It was a physical game between two physical teams, and both sides got their shots in, but at the end of the game, Pittsburgh emerged victorious and are now one win away from Arlington.

The Jets, for their part, faced a tight game against a division rival of their own. New York and New England has been exchanging cross words the whole week, and it showed on the field with a fair chunk of penalties and lots of rough play. The Jets grounded at 14-2 Patriot team that looked nigh unstoppable, with a defense that sacked Tom Brady five times and intercepted him to boot. Mark Sanchez threw for three touchdowns, and the rushing tandem of Shonn Green and LaDanian Tomlinson managed to ice the game at the end. New England did manage to do some damage in the fourth corner, and threatened a comeback, but after two unsuccessful onside kicks and a questionable call on fourth and thirteen, it was too little too late. The Jets won 28-21. For all that jawing, for all the criticism, for all of the circus that’s surrounded the New York Jets this season, they’re one win away from the Superbowl. The Jets and the Steelers met in Week Fifteen, with New York walking away victorious, 22-17, but there’s much more at stake this time around. Again, expect a great game from two teams who have been playing some great football lately.

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The Andrew Preview: NFL Week Four

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The Patriots take on the Dolphins this week after a number of very good AFC East match ups this season.

1. The NFL is investigating a confrontation between Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins and a fan that occurred during Monday night’s game between the Packers and the Bears. A Milwaukee news station aired footage of Collins arguing with a fan as he leaves a field, followed by Collins throwing his mouthpiece into the crowd. Collins claims that the fan spit on him and used a racial slur. Still, the Packers safety apologized and said that he simply “los[t] his cool.” Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy indicated that he believed Collins’ account of the incident and that he “support[s] Nick one-hundred percent.” Collins was involved in two plays late in the game that helped put the Bears in position to win the game and may have contributed to his frustration. First, a late game interception by Collins was wiped out by a pass interference call, and Collins’ tackle of Bears running back Matt Forte resulted in another penalty for unnecessary roughness putting. The NFL is engaged in an ongoing review of the incident.

2. With the first three weeks in the books, there is still some quarterback shuffling going around. In the final week that the Steelers will be playing without Ben Roethlisberger, coach Mike Tomlin named Charlie Batch the starter for this Sunday’s match up against the Ravens. Batch entered the season as the fourth string quarterback for Pittsburgh, but following Big Ben’s suspension and injuries to Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich, Batch had his chance to show his stuff this Sunday. He certainly took advantage of it, throwing for three touchdowns in the Steelers’ trouncing of Tampa Bay. Also, the Buffalo Bills cut former “quarterback of the future” Trent Edwards in favor of backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. Firtzpatrick threw for more yards in Week Three than Edwards had managed in the first two weeks of the season combined. The Jaguars, facing quarterback issues of their own, picked up Edwards  off of waivers. Edwards is expected to compete with Jacksonville QB David Garrard who has been underwhelming so far this season.

3. The agent of veteran kicker John Carney confirmed that his client would be returning to the New Orleans Saints. Carney, at 46, is expected to sign a one-year deal with the defending Superbowl Champs. The Saints entered the market for a kicker this week after incumbent Garrett Hartley missed a twenty-nine yard gimme in overtime that would have won the game for New Orleans. Instead, Hartley’s shank allowed the Falcons to march down into field goal range themselves and get the victory. Carney was a kicking consultant for the Saints last year, after being on their active roster for the majority of 2009. The twenty-two year veteran kicked his first NFL field goal in 1988.

Undefeated Teams

Chicago Bears
Kansas City Chiefs
Pittsburgh Steelers

A whopping five teams suffered their first losses this week, whittling us down to a mere three undefeated teams. The Packers lost to the Bears; the Texans lost to the Cowboys; the Dolphins lost to the Jets; the Saints lost to the Falcons, and the Bucs lost to the Steelers. Parity is king in the NFL this year. Just for reference, this time last season there were still seven undefeated teams.

2008 Detroit Lions Memorial Winless Teams

Buffalo Bills
Cleveland Browns
Carolina Panthers
Detroit Lions
San Francisco 49ers

Three teams managed to get their first win this week. The Cowboys beat the Texans; the Vikings beat the Lions, and the Rams beat the Redskins. This leaves us with five winless teams, and again, for frame of reference there were seven winless teams this time last season.

Three Big Match Ups

1. Baltimore at Pittsburgh, 1 P.M. EST on CBS – One of the big questions entering the 2010-2011 season was how the Steelers would fare without Ben Roethlisberger. Well, if the first three weeks of the season are any indication, Big Ben should get suspended every year. Though it’s included a bout of quarterbacking by committee, the admirable play from the Steeler backups and a strong defense have led Pittsburgh to an undefeated record entering the last week of Roethlisberger’s suspension. With tight wins against Atlanta and Tennessee, and a thrashing of the formerly undefeated Bucs this past week, the Steelers have shown that they can win without their star quarterback. However, they’ll face their first division foe this week, and the Ravens are no pushovers. Baltimore grinded out a tough win against the Jets, lost a close one to the Bengals, and beat their division rival Browns by a touchdown. Though Ravens RB Ray Rice is questionable for Sunday’s game with a bruised knee, expect a revitalized Ravens offense to balance their typically stout defense and give the Steelers a run for their money.

2. Washington at Philadelphia, 4:15 P.M. EST on FOX – With three teams each having only one win apiece, the NFC East aint what it used to be. Still, the Philadelphia Eagles have looked to be the class of the division in the early goings. Despite a tough loss to a talented Packer team in Week One, the Eagles have won two in a row and look unstoppable. Andy Reid was vindicated in his decision to name Michael Vick as his starter after the former Falcons quarterback helped deliver a beatdown of the woeful Jaguars to the tune 291 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 25-point margin of victory. Philly will look to establish their dominance in the NFC East by beating their division rivals. Still, the Shanahan Redskins are not the woeful Washington warriors of old. The Skins already have one win the division over the Cowboys, and it took an impressive comeback from the Texans in overtime to beat them in Weak Two. Moreover, you can expect Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb to be very motivated to show his old team what they’re missing after having traded him in the offseason. With the animated fans in Philadelphia, it should be an entertainingly contentious homecoming for the former Eagle, and accordingly, a great game.

3. New England at Miami, Monday, 8:30 P.M. EST on ESPN – The AFC East has put on some pretty good games these first three weeks of the season, with even the winless Bills doing their part. The Jets and the Pats put on quite a show in Week Two, and Miami and New York followed it up with another nail-biter in Week Three. Let’s hope the third leg of this round robin is just as exciting as the Fins take on the Patriots at home. The Dolphins went on the road and pulled off a pair of close victories over Buffalo and Minnesota to start the season. Unfortunately, they lost their home opener to the Jets in Week Three in a heartbreaker. However, this loss gives them all the more reason to go after another all-important division victory against the Pats. New England, for its part, also has a victory over Buffalo, a loss to the Jets, and a win over one of last season’s playoff teams on its 2010 resume. These teams appear pretty evenly matched, and it should make for a quality match up in the Monday night spotlight game. Expect Brady and Moss to be ready to put on a show while Chad Henne, Ronnie Brown, and the wildcat offense will aim to do the same.

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